Earlier this week, a colleague posted on Facebook a story about the last typewriter factory in the world shutting down this week. It made me reflect on just how much things have changed in the last 20 years.
According to the story posted by Nicholas Jackson at The Atlantic, Godrej and Boyce were the last company still making typewriters, located in a plant in Mumbai, India. Up until the last few years, the company was still turning out about 12,000 each year. But last year, it sold less than 800 and closed its doors with just 200 arabic typing machines in stock.
The story made me think back to my first job out of college as a sports information intern at the University of Delaware and one of the first duties I had there. It was to type postcards to hometown reporters from various newspapers about our student athletes. On one side, we typed a mailing address, then on the other side we would type that the kid was a member of the team or what they did the week before, winning an award, etc. Of course, this was also back in the day that newspapers actually had a hometown athlete column each week that said “Joe Smith (Greensboro, N.C. / Page HS) ran for 83 yards in South State University’s 23-7 win over East State.”
That was only the fall of 1989 and before this writing, my only memory of that task was oh, how it was such a pain to do it. That was before email. That was before websites… or Twitter or any of that. Many journalists wrote on a “laptop” (primitive as it was) called the TRS-80 that was made by Radio Shack… and many of us called it the “Trash 80” because it was a piece of junk. Rarely did your story go through on the first try and you had to go back and type special characters and code throughout it to get paragraph returns and have to send to the right bin when it got to the paper.
We had an Apple computer in our office for this new thing called “desktop publishing” and it had a new-fangled program called Quark. Otherwise, you were using a word processor with “Wordstar” or punching the keys of a typewriter. WordPerfect was beginning to give Wordstar a run for its money.
The Apple was complete with a 9-inch black and white screen that was built into it and my boss turned it into the first “portable” computer when he would lug it home at night to do more work. It wasn’t really made to be carried around, so no wonder the thing crashed quite frequently and we got to know the “sad mac” face quite well.
So much in technology has changed for those in the communications fields since that time. Media reporting is instantaneous, sometimes for the better and sometimes not so much. And everyone is a reporter now (a.k.a. citizen media), with ethics and standards blurred more and more making it harder to know what is real news.
And so now, 144 years after the first commercial typewriter in the U.S. was produced, it is now only a relic in a second-hand store. An artifact of times gone by.
And alas, in a tribute to the typewriter that some of my sports friends will remember, I will close with this: there is the story about the late Naval Academy sports information director Tom Bates, who once threw his typewriter out of a press box window following a loss to rival Army.
Would that story be the same, though, if he had thrown a MacBook? I doubt it.